From the early seventeenth century through the 1850s, a fully dressed high-post
bedstead was frequently the most valuable piece of furniture in well-appointed
southern houses. The expense lay in the textiles rather than the wooden frame,
however. When George Washington purchased a new bed for his Virginia home in
1759, London cabinetmaker and upholsterer Philip Bell charged him just under,
£ 5 for a mahogany and beech bedstead with an upholstered cornice, and
£24 for matching chintz bed curtains, a custom-made quilt, and a pair
of large mattresses.
Although viewed as decorative accessories today, bed curtains originally were
important functional components of a high-post bed. In the winter, tightly closed
curtains provided protection from the subfreezing indoor temperatures common
before the advent of central heating. During the summer, gauze mosquito curtains
were often substituted to ward off insects.